The Velvet Underground

VU_3rd_SD_Digital_Rev1 copy-edited
The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground: 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition
Polydor/UME
by David Chiu

Of the first four Velvet Underground studio albums featuring the late Lou Reed, the third self-titled album from 1969 might arguably be the best of them, perhaps because it marked a notable shift in the New York City band’s sound. Whereas the previous albums The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat were a combination of noisy and experimental rock, The Velvet Underground sounded more straightforward and accessible, even pop-oriented at times. ‘Gorgeous’ might not be a word to describe a group whose music explored dark and edgy themes, but it certainly applies to a good portion of the tracks on The Velvet Underground, from the aching “Candy Says” and the country-esque “That’s the Story of My Life,” to “Jesus” and the classic ballad “Pale Blue Eyes” – up to that point, the most tender-hearted VU song in the catalog since “Sunday Morning” and “I’ll Be Your Mirror” from the first album. Certainly the earlier departure of John Cale – who brought an avant garde edge to the band– and the arrival of new bassist Doug Yule played a part in the current’s new direction. It’s not to say that Velvet Underground went soft or sold out with this record—there’s still some punchy rockers in “What Goes On,” “Beginning to See the Light,” and the funky “Some Kinda Love.” As for the experimental side of the band, the eight-minute plus “The Murder Mystery” features all the members contributing vocals on what amounts to be a combination of free jazz/mystical psychedelia. And the album closes on a rather sweet and wistful note with drummer Maureen Tucker’s lead vocals on the charming “After Hours.” Similar to the deluxe treatment given to the previous VU reissues, this new 6-CD set of The Velvet Underground features both the Val Valentin mix and the ‘Closet Mix’ of the album; a plethora of original and new mixes of songs recorded in 1969 that were intended to be for a supposed new VU album that was never released. (That disc includes the rocker “Foggy Notion”; “Ocean,” which would end up on Lou Reed’s debut solo record; and an earlier version of “Rock and Roll” that would later appear on Loaded). The last two discs features the band’s live performances from the Matrix in San Francisco from that same year; the highlight from this is undoubtedly the 36-minute version of the epic jam “Sister Ray” that differs from the original studio version due to its shifting tempos (slow to fast to slow to fast, etc.). The story of the band during that fruitful period 45 years ago feels now complete with this massive reissue. But even without all the extras, the original 10-song set still burns and stands on its own, representative of a pioneering band maturing without fully compromising its edge and vision.

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